The Easiest Way to Make Progress With Kettlebells

As you may know, we just got back from our last vacation “together.” The boy is due in April and we thought we’d get away. We stayed at this place called “The Alexandra Resort and Spa.” Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

(I tried to upload some pics – but I’m still having issues with my server…)

But you know what? It wasn’t really “fancy” in the traditional sense. Certainly not like Versailles, the former palace of French kings.

Nope – it had clean lines, not too many frills, just simple and elegant.

Kind of like how our kettlebell workouts should be.

But looking around, it seems we’ve gotten lost over the years. We’ve taken seemingly simple exercises like the Get Up and complicated them beyond recognition all for the sake of “movement”.

(I’m all for clean movement, but let’s remember to get the basics down first before we go deeper down the rabbit hole…)

It’s like I tell my clients, many of whom struggle to get workouts in on the days I don’t see them – some movement is better than no movement. Everything is scalable. On one end we have no movement, and on the other end we have movement, defined by your goal.

But so many times we get distracted by the wrong movements or too many movements. And that leads many times to failure – failure to progress – failure to see the results we’re looking for.

Why?

Because there are too many ingredients in the recipe to measure.

So, what’s the solution?

Simplify – it’s the easiest way I know of to make progress with your kettlebell workouts.

Like I alluded to yesterday – why do 3 exercises when one will suffice? What is it that you hope to gain by doing the extras?

Why workout for an hour when 30 minutes will get the job done? Again, what is it you hope to accomplish?

More is only more when it’s money in the bank (except for periods of inflation and hyperinflation).

Our bodies only have limited capacities to produce energy. And ultimately, isn’t that why we work out – to have more energy? To feel better about ourselves and the way we look?

And actually, if I were to simplify that even further, I would say the ONLY REAL and TRUE reason we work out is to feel better about ourselves – whether our goal is to look better with our clothes off or to compete in a sport. Ultimately, we do those things because by doing them, we seek to feel better about ourselves. And in doing them we have convinced ourselves that we feel better. And that’s what’s important – that we do feel better.

But, when we overly-complicate things – put too many irons in the fire, too many ingredients in the stew, we start to feel a loss of control because there are more things to manage – not only in whatever specific area we’re talking about, but in the rest of our lives as well.

More often than not this causes doubt, confusion, and uncertainty, and decreases our overall sense of well-being. It literally robs us of our energy. This holds true for our work environment, our home life, our debts and bills, and even our workouts. The more you have to manage, the more energy you will expend. And the more likely something is to break or go wrong or fail to live up to your expectations.

So, it makes good sense then, that since we’ve chosen a simple tool – the kettlebell, that our workouts should reflect that simplicity. Not only will we relieve the mental burden of trying to do too many things at one time, but we’ll also find that progress is easier to manage, measure, and see.

Here then, are five (one for each finger on your hand) simple steps to make rapid progress with your kettlebell workouts.

The 5 Step Simple Success Formula

1. Determine your goal.
2. Determine where you are now in relation to that goal (measure).
3. Determine what is necessary to achieve that goal – your strengths and your limitations.
4. Seek to maintain your strengths while removing your limitations.
5. Measure your progress in relation to your goal over a set period of time.

Here’s an example – let’s say I want to be able to Press the 48kg for 10 reps in one hand. Following the steps, here’s how they’d look:

1. Goal – Press 48kg x 10 with one hand.
2. Current ability – Press 48kg x 2 with one hand, 40kg x 10 with one hand.
3. Limitations – here’s the tricky part – you have to be pretty accurate on this or you could end up wasting a lot of time – ability to stay tight and generate stability from which to Press
4. Actions – Press for maintenance and work on exercises that force me to stay tight – maintain stability – can be one and the same – Tall Kneeling Presses for example.
5. Plan a specialized training cycle for 30 days with Tall Kneeling Press as centerpiece and re-measure Pressing ability at end of 30 days.

Now, you’re probably wondering how I know if this would work. I don’t – not for sure. But I have a relative certainty it will based on two things – 1) my knowledge of the human body and it’s adaptation, and 2) my training history.

What if you don’t have “expertise” in those two areas? Don’t worry I’ll be posting in the near future on how you can overcome those perceived obstacles.

In the meantime, if you’re designing your own kettlebell workouts or trying to modify one or more professionally designed kettlebell programs (you know who you are!), pause for a minute. I strongly encourage you to use the aforementioned 5 steps.

What if you have more than one goal?

What if you want a Big Press, to drop 10lbs of fat, and increase your SSST numbers?

Simple.

Prioritize your goals. Yes, there is a scientifically backed sequence in which to do them for faster results, but ultimately if one burns more inside of you to accomplish, go for that one first. Once you achieve that one, use the momentum from that accomplishment to achieve the next one and so on.

But still use the 5-Step Simple Success Formula I gave you above for those goals.

Keep your eyes open for more blog posts about making your kettlebell workouts more successful. In the meantime, I welcome your thoughts and comments – feel free to post them below.

17 comments… add one
  • Sean Greeley Jan 19, 2011 @ 10:27

    Very good post Geoff. I’m coming for the RKC II in July.

    Weighted pull-up- check.
    Pistols both legs- check.
    Advanced KB skills – looking good.

    44kg SA press is the only thing left to finish. And thanks to a visit with Brett last month, things are progressing very nicely there too.

    Don’t know if you’ll be at that cert, but hope to catch up sometime this year. I have to laugh because the last time I saw you, you had to carry me off the plane man! I’ll never forget that. Crazy times.

    Best,
    Sean

    • GEOFFN Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:26

      Sean – Psyched that you’re doing the level 2! Yep – VERY long way from June 08! Glad the time with Brett was beneficial. Let’s catch up soon.

  • Johan Jan 19, 2011 @ 10:59

    hmm I actually have one of those too many goals problems. It’s quite sad actually. I would like to be able to do 5 freestanding Handstand push ups but I would also like to complete the ETK Rite of passage.

    The problem is those goals doesn’t really compliment each other very well because ROP is overhead pressing but HSPUs are overhead pressing as well. hmm.

    • GEOFFN Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:27

      Johan – Pick one goal and alternate it with the other for 30 days at a time – 30 days press followed by 30 day HSPUs and so on…

  • Andreas Jan 19, 2011 @ 11:20

    Great Geoff as always! Had a similar problem with the 24 kg kettlebells some minths ago! I could press the 20 kg bell in 5 ladders of 1,2,3,4,5 but couldn’t even press the 24 3 times. After I focussed on the technique, how to use the hips, the abs and how to lift the bell and breathe it worked! Now I am on the technical focus on snatching the 24! It is much harder than the 20 kg for me! Hope I find the prooblem asap!

    • GEOFFN Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:28

      Good to hear of your success Andreas! Just remember to float the bell with your hips on the Snatch and then toss it down between the groin on the way back down.

  • Jason M Jan 19, 2011 @ 11:43

    Good post Geoff. Simplifying my training down to the bare essentials has made a huge difference in my training. I have two kids of my own and quickly learned that I no longer had of the luxury of spending hours pounding away in my garage. Recently my ETK routine has been sidelined from sheer stupidity. My right shoulder wasn’t liking the volume, but I was getting so close to half-bodyweight press that I tried to power through rather than pull the plug. Well, now my goal has changed from “Press half bodyweight with both sides” to “Press 16kg in right arm without pain”. I’ve been doing a lot of mobility drills and focusing on the scapula which has been definitely making a difference, but I know I have a ways to go as even certain parts of the TGU cause a little pain.

    • GEOFFN Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:30

      Jason – Bummed to hear about the shoulders. Spend some time on your t-spine and hips too. Also neck. If possible and much better than taking advice from me on a blog – go see a CK-FMS practitioner.

  • Tim Spencer Jan 19, 2011 @ 16:10

    Jason, I am sorry to hear that! I hate to say it but your story is a good reminder for me as I begin a program for the beast challenge. Gotta be slow and listen to the body…

    Geoff, fantastic post. I have been doing so much thinking on program design lately (and how so many neat little things that can be fit into them if you’re “smart” but may not actually be systematic or progressive) that I wound up just scrapping a lot and simplifying what I was doing to a progressive science. If it can’t or won’t be tracked and it’s not an “ah-ha” drill, why do it?

    I agree completely about the getup getting a bit complicated. If doing a pretty getup isn’t increasing the weight of the getup exercise or the weight of a press then the “pretty” training can be moved over to maintenance. If a person’s “pretty” is pretty good, I just move them over to something else that can be progressively trained. Aesthetic looking getups, once developed, are not a substitute for all of the other and more genuine movement exploration that a person can do – quite honestly – away from the kettlebell. But that’s just my opinion.

    Your posts are always to the point and perfectly timely for me. Thanks.

    • GEOFFN Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:32

      Tim – Great thoughts – especially about the “a-ha” moments and “work for work’s sake.” I’ll write more on that in the future.

      • Tim Spencer Jan 20, 2011 @ 17:29

        Thanks Geoff – And my above comments of course were not me being down on the get-up. It’s very versatile. Basically I just say: if the high bridge is bad, fixing it might be a great goal and can be tracked. If it’s good, we can go back to making the exercise challenging and goal appropriate just like you’ve been hinting at.

  • Diana Jan 19, 2011 @ 19:10

    Great post! It totally goes with the 99 kettlebell workouts you emailed out over the holidays! I forgot how nice just a few minutes versus hours can be with a kettlebell.
    Just last night-did some snatches with the 20kg. 3L/3R x 5 rounds. Sandwiched those in between 5L/5R x 10 rounds with the 16kg.
    Great 20 minute workout!
    Thanks for all the great info!

    • GEOFFN Jan 20, 2011 @ 14:32

      Diana – yup – sometimes it’s just about getting it done!

  • Billy Meyer Jan 21, 2011 @ 15:48

    Geoff,
    I have been taught humility and patience by the kettlebell. With instruction, strenght has been attained and maintained with patience and perseverance, and realism. You have to be real when your body hurts. So everything I do is in steps. If the entire TG hurts. I just do half of it and other stability drills. If the shoulders hurt, birddogs and crawls get me over the hump more quickly. I have finally learned, that progress is often found in simplicity, which is learned by patience. Thanks for your great ideas and leadership.
    Billy

  • Danyelle Jan 25, 2011 @ 17:53

    Geoff,
    Awesome blog, I wish I had found it sooner! I’m sure you don’t remember me from the June 08 RKC cert (I was in Andrea DuCane’s group) but I will be at RKC II this July and I can barely wait! I have definitely made improvements since 08, but would still like to go the extra mile before July and even be ready to make an Iron Maiden attempt. The problem I face is in trying to make huge strides in three different moves in such a short amount of time? Any suggestions on how to break it down? I can currently press the 20kg for 2x pretty clean, I can do one pull up with 40lbs on me (weight plates no kbs) and I can pistol squat the 20kg. I alternate volume days and heavy weight days in all three lifts. Any suggestions on taming the beast greatly appreciated!

    Danyelle

    • GEOFFN Jan 26, 2011 @ 9:12

      Danyelle – Would love to help you out, but the answer to your question is beyond the scope of a blog answer – a little more complicated than “do this.” Hope you understand. You can always shoot me an email…

  • mark dansart Jul 31, 2013 @ 18:51

    Dear Sir:

    How do I join “inner circle”?

    Very Respectfully,

    Dansart

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